Md. smoking ban recalls sad memories for governor

March 29, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Parris Glendening's mother smoked 2 1/2 packs of cigarettes a day.

She died of lung cancer at age 58.

Parris Glendening's father smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.

He died of a heart attack when he was 50.

And a son does not forget things like that.

"My mother died a very painful death," Glendening told me yesterday. "And my father -- we were very close -- he died when I was still in college and, well, I remember it all very well."

Our governor hastened to add that one does not run a government based on personal reminiscences. And he said he has a Johns Hopkins study on his desk showing that smoking causes 7,000 deaths per year in Maryland.

And facts and figures are what you need to make your case when you are a governor.

But, speaking personally, I admire politicians who remember every now and then what it is like to be a human being.

I don't want politicians to forget what it is like to lose a mother and a father to smoking.

And I am impressed by politicians who want to keep other mothers and fathers from dying too young and needlessly.

So if this is why in his first 100 days as governor Parris Glendening has imposed a sweeping smoking ban on Maryland, I am all for it.

The ban is not all it should be. But Glendening thinks it is all it could be. For now.

If he had his druthers, however, he told me, nobody in Maryland could smoke anywhere unless they were outdoors or in their homes.

"I would love to have a 100 percent nonsmoking state," he said.

Which is not what Maryland became this week.

Yes, smoking has been banned in virtually all stores, offices and factories.

But Glendening wanted smoking banned in bars and restaurants, also, and this is where he lost.

The tobacco lobby and the "hospitality" lobby (though what is hospitable about lung cancer and heart disease I do not know) combined against him, wooed and won the General Assembly and forced Glendening to accept a compromise.

It is a shame. It is a shame because this smoking ban is an employee protection ban, designed to save the lives of Maryland workers.

The compromise Glendening was forced to accept, which exempts bars and, with certain safeguards, restaurants from the smoking ban, comes at a high price: Waiters, waitresses, busboys, bartenders and others will continue to be forced to expose themselves to secondhand smoke where they work.

And this will cost some of them their lives.

So what solace can you give these people? I asked Glendening.

"None," he said.

Don't you have any advice for them? I asked.

"I wish I did," he said sadly. "We tried our best. But there were high stakes."

The high stakes was the desire of some legislators to throw out the entire smoking ban. And Glendening had to arm-twist and jawbone to save the majority of the ban.

"I would like to have covered every single worker with this ban," he said. "But this is a democracy. The power of the legislature is enormous and I've got to respect that."

Respecting individual legislators is another matter, however. And I am having a tough time respecting Senate President Mike Miller on this issue.

First I heard him on national TV say how the ban was a set of "country club regulations put in place by bureaucrats who don't understand ordinary people."

Then, after the ban went into effect this week, he went on local TV to tell people they didn't really have to pay any attention to it.

"I'm not telling anybody to go out and break the law," he said, "but I'm telling you nobody is going to enforce these laws anytime soon."

(And the next time Miller is invited to a school to speak on disrespect for the law in our society, maybe he can use himself as a bad example.)

"We have put together probably the best ban in the entire country," Glendening said. "And as three or four years go by and people see that the world does not cave in because of it, maybe we can expand the ban to cover all workers."

And maybe then more lives will be saved. And maybe then a son will have finished doing his duty.

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